Douglas County was formed January 7, 1852 from the portion of what used to be Umpqua that was east of the Coast Range summit. Four years later Camas Valley was taken from Coos County and added to Douglas County. The rest of Umpqua County was absorbed into Douglas County in 1862. Boundary adjustments were made with Jackson and Lane Counties in 1915.
Douglas County is the fifth largest county in Oregon and is one of only two counties that stretch from the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean. The county is a total of 5,134 square miles, 97 square miles of the county is water, and the other 5,037 acres is land. Approximately 40% of Douglas County is forestland, roughly 1.8 million acres. The forest industry provides roughly 25% of the labor force in Douglas County. Other industries in Douglas County are agriculture, livestock, field crops, orchards and vineyards.
The city of Roseburg serves as the county seat for Douglas County. It was originally known as Deer Creek because of its location near the confluence of Deer creek and the South Umpqua River. It was renamed 1857 to Roseburg, after Aaron Rose, who first settled into the area in September of 1851.
Rose was born in Ulster County, New York in 1851. He first came to Oregon form Coldwater, Michigan where he had lived since 1837. Rose’s house served as a tavern in Roseburg for many years and was the first roadside inn in the area. Aaron Rose died in 1899.
Roseburg was chosen by voters in 1854 over Winchester, another small town in the area, to serve as the county seat. When Roseburg was voted to be the county seat, Aaron Rose donated $1,000 and three acres of land to build the county courthouse. The majority of the population in Douglas County in located in the Umpqua Valley, including Roseburg, Oakland, Sutherlin, Yoncalla and Drain. The primary settlement period for Douglas County was between 1850 and 1900, and was greatly inspired by the Oregon Donation Land Act of 1850.
There is a lot of history in Douglas county and the Umpqua Valley, primarily that of the Indians who once inhabited the land and stories of how early settlers began here. The Applegate Trail, for example, passed through Roseburg along the route of what is today known as Main Street. The trail was opened in 1846 and served as an alternate route for reaching the western valleys of the Oregon Territory without traveling the dangerous Oregon Trail route. The Applegate trail remained in use well into the 1880’s.
One of the most memorable historic events in Douglas County is what is well known to locals as the ‘Roseburg Blast’ of 1959. On August 7, 1959 at about 1am the Gerretsen Building Supply Company, which is still in business in Roseburg today, caught fire. Firefighters quickly arrived to put out the fire near Oak and Pine streets. Unknown to the firefighters and others in the area, a truck driver named George Rutherford had parked his truck, full of explosives from the Pacific Powder Company, in front of the building earlier in the evening and booked a room at the nearby Umpqua Hotel. The truck was loaded with two tons of dynamite and four and a half tons of the blasting agent nitro carbo nitrate. At 1:14 am, fourteen minutes after the fire began, the truck exploded. The explosion destroyed buildings for an eight block radius and caused severe damage for an additional 30 blocks. A crater was created by the blast that was approximately 52 feet wide and 20 feet deep.
Fire crews from Eugene and Springfield responded to Roseburg’s call for help and by the next evening National Guard Units from both Roseburg and Cottage Grove were patrolling the area to prevent looting and help with recovery efforts. In total, fourteen people died in the blast and another 125 people were injured. The damage to the city was estimated to be between $10 and $12 million and the Pacific Powder Company was ordered to pay $1.2 million in civil damages, however they were acquitted of any criminal wrong doing.
The City of Roseburg failed to qualify for urban renewal funds to rebuild after The Blast, but fortunately the largest majority of downtown businesses had insurance that covered their damages. It was these business owners and their insurance money that made it possible to rebuild the downtown area. The city however, did obtain parcels of land near the blast sight to improve transportation and traffic flow in the area by building a new bridge across the South Umpqua River to connect what is now known as the Melrose area and downtown.
Douglas County is rich with history and provides a wide variety of activities and learning possibilities for everyone. From outdoor activities, to wildlife, sightseeing, and even its own animal park, there is much to choose from.
Hiking ** Rock Climbing ** White Water Rafting ** Oregon Dunes ** Winery Tours ** Camping ** Fishing ** Bicycling ** Horseback Riding ** Skiing ** Golf ** Covered Bridges ** Historic Buildings ** Museums ** Wildlife **
The Roseburg Blast
August 7, 1959
Although the following video has no sound, it shows some of the extensive damage done by the explosion in downtown Roseburg in the early morning hours of August 7, 1959